Monday, March 19, 2007

Ivy dreams

I am toying with the idea of sending my sis to attend (any)one of the ivy league universities.

The reasons are manifold, although I think it has a lot to do with one of those suppressed ambitions of mine (I hope I am not using her as a proxy) - like how in the end I was forced to turn down JHU (my 1st choice for undergrad) for a lack of funds. Sometimes I still wonder how my education will be like, and how different my present path will (or will not) be. How do you place a monetary value on a college education? Is it on the end product (elite grad schools, fancy i-banks in Wall Street/mgt consultancies) or the process of intellectual engagement and growth?

Ah, I know what some detractors will say: "But there are many other good schools what! And much cheaper too!" I don't deny that. And this might even be contrary to what I said previously in one of my entries.

So I will reply, "A Corolla or a Civic provides good value for money and are an excellent set of wheels on their own right, but they are not Porsche nor BMW nor Mercedes."

(I think it was from karpace that I first heard of this automotive comparison.)

Of course for the idea to work out, is to assume

1. I take up one of those obscenely decently paid jobs (and lousy hours),
2. I will continue to have no familial/gf/spousal commitments and
3. that my sis gets an admission offer.

As I was musing with loiseaurebelle (LR),

a. my sis' stats aren't competitive with the hordes applying out of Bishan and Bukit Timah (sucks to be a Singapore applicant yeah) and
b. poly students many have gone to study in the ivy league for their undergraduate education?

The only place where she might have a long shot is Columbia's GS. But for that one her ECAs and life experiences must stand out. So what about my folks, you ask.

Well, I do not care about what they think, but I know my dad is not willing to let her come to the US after seeing how reluctant/unwilling I am in returning home. My mum thinks the goal is set too high. Then my sis bought into the bullshit that she is not good enough to aim for the ivy league. The Singapore system is such that if you aren't streamed into the top schools early on, the odds start to stack against you. The teachers, parents and peers all can affect you negatively, or positively. I was lucky to have positive vibes from all 3, mutually reinforcing one another.

Another, but not insignificant reason for the ivy league is just that - a big ego booster to my sis. That she can aim for the stars if she tries. Then LR commented on the difficulty of getting out when one is stuck in the cycle of low expectations. The Singapore society especially is quick to condemn.

America has them too, in the form of WASP strongholds or Asian community neighborhoods. Those WASP prep schools are notorious ("wasps with their stupid waspy ideas"), and are probably worse than Singapore's equivalents; so are overachieving Asian families where one's folks are with PhD from MIT, mum with PhD/MD/JD from Harvard.

LR was quick to retort: "hahaha what about you? You also went to top unis. I will pity your hypothetical (future) kids."

Me: "Your offspring will have a high bar set for them too. No matter what we can say how we would like our kids to grow up *normal*, there will always be comparisons and expectations placed onto them."

Just don't crush them. Advice I will have to take and keep in mind constantly.


Hyperchondriac said...

most of the time schools only look at the O levels anyway, i don't see why your sis won't be competitive enough esp since she also has the practical training from poly. in fact, i rather think that will place her in better stead. my advice though, is to try to get her interviews (a couple) and fly her over here for them. treat it like a working holiday. i know that i will never ever have gotten into hopkins if i didn't show up for an interview.

Pin-Quan said...

I don't think GS is *that* selective, and I think it's a good choice. Almost all the benefits of going to Columbia w/o the core requirements. Also, she should consider Barnard, which shares those qualities. If you want we can discuss this further via MSN.

7366 said...

there is someone at stanford who was from a polytechnic in Singapore, not sure, but if you have contacts at Staford (quite likely, I believe) you might want to ask around.

Have to be honest with you - its true, for the most part, its "ivy or nothing else." brand is more important than actual substance.

Kwee More said...

Juz bear in mind tat Columbia is in NY...expensive & perhaps not the safest for a gal with no prev experience living alone...It's a great Ivy but not the best location...

Joseph said...

i have a friend from poly, who got into computer science at carnegie mellon. granted, it's not an ivy, but it's one of the best schools for comp sci.

nofearSingapore said...

Hi takchek:
great of you to think for your sis
I totally agree that she should aim high and shoot for the sky.
Just drill her for the SAT or even try the transfer route ( you know.. start somewhere then transfer to an IVY later).
I suppose it is more impt where she gets her final diploma than where she started.
I am sure you know what to do.
The only problem is probably funding but if she is resourceful, can save by getting cheap lodging or work in the summer. Also study like hell during summer term to shorten the stay.
Good luck.
Keep us updated.
I got a kid in a mid-western U ( on father's scholarship- sigh!!)


testtube said...

Disagree that it's "ivy or nothing else". Plenty of liberal arts colleges offer a better education than an Ivy, and have as much of a brand reputation (not in Singapore, but amongst US employers). Some of them are also slightly cheaper (Columbia has the most expensive undergrad education in the world). Going to a respectable state university is also a good choice. I don't think employers care that much whether you come from Harvard or UMich-Ann Arbor, for instance.

7366 said...

Columbia is not the most expensive university in the world. That is a sweeping statement. The honor belongs to the George Washington University in Washington D.C.

New York City is one of the safest large cities in America. Sure, the cost of living in NYC is high, yet once you adapt to the life of a student, one will be able to seek a cheaper life in the city - food in Chinatown, buying cooking items in Chinatown. Taking the subway with a season pass. Columbia is also pretty generous with their financial aid as well.

It does matter which college of university you did go to. If you go to a top tier public university - there tends to be a very strong concentration of the student body from the particular state itself - be it Californians in Berkeley, or Illnois residents at UIUC, or Michigan state people at UMich Ann Arbor. There is an inherent geographical diversity that is captured in the private universities that helps to broaden the education experience. Diversity is important - because the pople in your class will shape and broaden your experiences in college.

Its surprsingly how in political science classes, how people from the South and the Northwest are split in their opinions, or the east and west coast "rivalry" that is a benefit perhaps not seen in the state-centric admissions that happens in many of the great public universities in America.

Lastly, the size of the college one attends also matter. Public Universities tend to be significantly large that private ones, it sure is great to be in small classes at some point in one's college life - something that might be harder to obtain at public universities.

Then again, to each his own. Your mileage might vary. I'm very happy studying in a mid-western college in the united states - where the people are warm and friendly, the student body is well composed in racial, geographic and economic diversity and its pretty much been a joy to attend classes every single day.

Lastly, high paying recruiters - assuming if one's role in college is to graduate well and land a well paying job - tend to converge on the same colleges every single year - the ivy leagues, the ivy-plus leagues, the top 10 liberal arts colleges. Opportunities that are harder to come by are in my humble opinion, much more accessible in the private universities.

Going to college is not just about the "education" per se in terms of academics. There is the development of social, cultural, linguistic, analytical and existential parts of the self - amongst others. As my academic advisor has kindly explained to me - its not so much how many A grades you received, or how quick you graduated from college - it is the depth and the breadth of the experience you venture through that truly matters.

takchek will know a little bit better, since he's probably been following my blog for quite sometime. I expected to do "route A" in college - and ended up finding my own will and heading on "route Z" - and the adventure has never stopped since.

hokkienpeng said...

So you're writing off Berkeley, Caltech, MIT, and Stanford completely? None of them are in the Ivy League.

hokkienpeng said...

BTW, here's a guy who went from Singapore Polytechnic to Harvard:

7366 said...

a quick note of clarification

I'll just use the term "ivy-plus" for all those great schools not encompassed by the original north-eastern universities. It should be obvious enough to the educated reader.

gssq is quite right when he says that most singaporeans a great at either ad hominem or else non-sequitor ads.

pretty much *everyone* knows what the great schools are. Yet seriously speaking, with the huge demand for higher education in the states right now, I will not be surprised if in the future this encompasses the top 25 "new ivies" as declared by newsweek. College is certainly more than the brand name of the university. Its just that its come to the point where the brand name is everything. A quick means to pride and stature indeed. There's more to college than merely attempting to maintain a 3.8 gpa, studying engineering, mathematics and the hard sciences, attempting to graduate within 3 years and missing out on a large part of the experience.

Personal story here. Me and the other scholar on campus. Unfortunately, as brilliantly smart as he is, he does not even have 15 minutes to come to a simple meeting for the singapore student's association. No time at all to take any extra-cirrculars. No time to do *anything* except to take an extra heavy courseload.

Well, I guess I'll always be the damn exception to the education system and its policies and won't fit into the stereotypical nature of the singaporean scholar. But its ok. I'm here and life is better. And its much happier too. There's more to college - community service, crazy frat parties, having lunch with a person of a different racial background everyday, dating people of every other race, appreciating the nuances of the various breaks, internships, travel experiences, flexibility in choosing classes to what you are interested in, rather than merely what is practical.

Then again, there arer some things that you have to physically step our of... and look at in the different perspective to better appreciate it. Its life! Pretty much any good college in the United States can provide you with a great education. Its just interesting when some great schools like Rice, Vanderbilt, Emory, Notre Dame, Northwestern are not even the "schools that come to mind" when one thinks of an excellent college in America.

Maybe I'm not making any sense - sorry Takchek for rambling so long - an all nighter last night. Attempting to graduate with a master's in economics in 4 years. A collegiate experience in itself. I'd just say that my original point is rather reasonable - that for the most part, its the brand of the university rather than the actual education that matters in the context of Asian society. Form is sometimes more important than substance. Since after all, its easier to gain instant respect and recognition from others merely by attending a world famous university like Harvard, MIT, Stanford. Doesn't matter whether you graduated last in your class. As the economics professor speaks in support of the signalling hypothesis - "I went to harvard, now pay me!" Doesn't matter if you graduated bottom 100 in the class. Its not so much the actual "education" after all - merely the enhancement of status that comes by going to such a college.

Better to be a crappy student at stanford, than to be a top student at some crappy community college. Better to be an average student at berkeley or williams than to be the top student at an average safety school. Brand ultimately is more important. Be it to employers, to strangers, and also for the opportunities in social networking. Where you go for college does matter with what you'll work at after graduation.

Boon Thye said...

I think UC Berkeley and UMich Ann-Harbor are good choices if you are worried about costs...

testtube said...


I stand corrected. Columbia is the 8th most expensive. Nothing against the place. I too went to an expensive private university with a culture very similar to Columbia's (rigorous core curriculum, big city campus, reputation of producing tortured academics rather preppy glamorous graduates a la Harvard and Yale, etc.). I am in complete agreement that from an academic point of view, private research universities have their advantages. I can't imagine attending lectures that have more than 50 students, for instance! But I'm not convinced that it's worth the difference in tuition. I also think that there really isn't that much difference in employment prospects between a graduate from a top state university and a graduate from a top private university. Most of the difference is in the classroom and cultural experiences.

testtube said...


If the other scholar is a scholar of an organisation that has been in the news recently, I think I know who he is. I know of his plight. Completely agree that the three years + 3.8 thing is educationally counterproductive.